Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Suggested reading suggestions

Sorry, this is such a bloggerly thing to do but its a pet page of mine even though I have no link to it, yet, on my blog.

When Crooked Timber takes on a topic they consider significant, several of the contributers weigh in and they produce the online equivalent of a small symposium. This may be a touch academic for some of us but a likely hunting ground for new thoughts or new perspectives on old stuff.

They have been threatening to explore Yokai Benklers "The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production transforms Markets and Freedom" for a few weeks and yesterday morning, they delivered. Whats it all about? You should read the essays, but, for instance, here Eszter puts a sentence around one of the benefits of the book:
The book serves as a helpful reference to various online discussions and events that have occurred in the past few years and it is useful to have them documented and linked together suggesting that they were more than isolated occurrences of how people are using digital technologies for political and social purposes.
The book was downloadable [if you could bear the server-limited delivery rate] when CT first mentioned it a few weeks ago. You could buy it too.

I find it odd that CT appears in so few blogrolls among all my usual bookmarks...I can get from CT to just about anywhere by clicking through the web of blogroll linkage. Is it the length of their posts? Am I just an odd consumer of blogs?

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

No time for blogging puts me in a foul mood.

And all I can do is fix up the dictionary.

Fundamentalist: Not always stupid, a member of one of the sects which, when god presented them with the most sumptuous and subtle banquet ever devised, chose to grab the happy meal and run away.

One of the subtleties of the banquet is that we stumble upon it without an invitation, another is that the cooking is not done yet but left up to us.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Going NGO: what THIS patriot will do

Since the government of the united states has decided to go around the constitution. I have decided to go around the government. My first act in that vein is to add that badge you see on the right: it is to make readers aware of Amnesty International's new campaign to prevent censorship.

As I understand American History, our imperfections have, for a long time, been yielding ground to the ideals of fairness so hopefully expressed in our founding documents. Many of our struggles, sometimes armed, have been for the preservation of a way of life in which the documents defined the government and the government served the people. The activists and soldiers who resolutely fought for continued progress or for a nation beloved because it could credibly promise that progress have a legacy we should honor, continue and enhance. But now a cloud is over this whole enterprise. The idea that the essence of being American is being free from bad guys more than being free to speak your mind seems to have gained a hold like crabgrass. In this darkening era, the government redefines the documents and serves itself.

We have handled far worse problems and faced far more determined enemies but can we overcome our own misapprehension?

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Science to rescue Congressmen [June Fools Day]

Its not just the president who has crashed and burned his "mandate" [if he ever had one beside Guckert] The congress sinks lower in the esteem of voters with each vote. We have witnessed a dismaying string of setbacks for freedoms, civil rights, our children's financial security and peace because of near total anorchia among our elected representatives. They have rolled over and played dead for the administration on the selection of a military spy master to run a civilian intelligence agency. They muttered but let stand the mealy mouthed excusing of domestic spying by the Bush-appointed top law enforcement official. Even when one of them was nuts enough to go first, the rest of them didn't have the nuts to vote even a reprimand of the president's blatant incompetence and disregard for the law.

But there is new hope! One issue in which the congress refused to play the toady to the President's thinly veiled fundamentalist agenda was in stem cell research. If your congressman just barely has the balls to back stem cell therapy research, perhaps THIS stem cell therapy could salvage their feckless asses.

note: originally post-dated to appear out of order while I goofed off over memorial day. pretty lame, eh?

Friday, May 26, 2006

There is no place to stand

Judgement is usually rendered from a certain point of view, that POV being tacit or assumed in many cases. Then every one in earshot must judge from what point of view the judgement was made.

Judging people without judging the circumstances they were born into should be attempted consciously so the failure would be more obvious and instructive.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Challenge of Birth

A birth presents many challenges. I am glad some people who know those challenges are not for them are forthright with their choice and may even serve as examples for others who will not care for or cannot measure up to the weighty commitment. Others who are going through the motions or might just have kids because they don't know any better, listen up. The rest of us, keep this in mind:

A birth, properly honored with about 20 years of attentive providence and worry balanced with a healthy degree of detachment, is or should be the repurposing of your DNA.

I spent so long thinking kids were their parents continuation. I hope the rest of my life manages to convey my gratitude to my kids for having taught me otherwise.


The best persuaders don't persuade you but inform you in such a way that you persuade yourself.

People who are easy to persuade are not so much in need of a belief as as they are in need of company.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Bike to work weak

I am biking to work more and more often as the weather warms up. I work in a laboratory in a suburb of Boston where the employer and the employees embrace the bicycle as an alternative to the car to a degree exceeded only on campuses. I have bike commuted for years though not to the exclusion of driving. My all-weather biking days are behind me. My route to work includes some shoulderless potholed two lane and plenty of motor traffic. I have always stood for my rights as a cyclist and ridden on the road as provided for by the state laws. The tallest steepest hill in town is on a road that crosses the one divided four-lane that transects our town but it is the only sensible route for my commute. Going down the hill, I go nearly 40 mph, but the cars will still try to pass me in spite of the 30 mph speed limit. When I go home, the cars zip around me as I labor up the hill. One day a few weeks ago, I just up and swerved into a driveway at the foot of the hill and rode up the hill on the sidewalk. Well, to be exact, we rather fittingly call them "roadside pathes" as most roads don't have them, they are typically situated on the other side of a low stone wall from the road and they are deserted and unkempt except near the schools.

I don't remember all the crackle and static of thought that ran through my head as I took to the path, but some of it was "well heck, what is with this pride of not riding on a side walk when I am going so slow anyway?" I've never ridden there before. By the time I got to the top of the hill a long three minutes later I had realized what turned my handle bars off the road. That morning an e-mail made the rounds at the office about the death of a long time staff researcher, a 30 year veteran cycle commuter who had been run over by an SUV a few days earlier on his ride to work.

You don't always know why you do something in the moment you do it.
Risk is a measure of potential that can change its percieved weight rapidly and without much consciousness involved.
Fear is conserved not absolutely as momentum is but as energy is conserved: it merely changes form.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Albright writes a new chapter ...

I wish Bush knew how to read. He'd hate The Mighty and the Almighty, Madeleine Albright's new book.

You might like it. Rather eloquently and in a very constructive way Ms. Albright examines the ways religion is entwined in politics and particularly, the way its role has changed in the last ten years in American politics. She looks with the authority of one of history's true co-authors at the folly of crafting foreign policy based on slight familiarity with the religion and culture of the nations we face. She gives no comfort to anyone who hopes that we can conduct a politics that is "above religion". The opportunities wasted have been numerous but she concludes all is not lost yet if we begin doing our state department homework about other countries and work on our humility. She can also say with more credibility than anyone currently in office exactly where the UN can be most effective. I read the book and hope Bolton gets apoplexy or suddenly develops a conscience so that body is still in tact to do its work. I read this book and pine for the days when presidents appointed people who had not only brains but breadth and some capacity for basic human sympathy and decency.

As a person with loud mistrusts of religion's contributions to the state of the world, I find myself surprisingly appreciative of Ms Albright's advice to us. She has sat across the table from Saudi Kings and had any number of first hand encounters with victims of war in Africa, the Balkans and the middle east. She was long a student of the cold war stasis of Poland by the time Pope John Paul II visited there and stirred hope. She has been to the places and talked to the people whom I, in my upper middle class suburb think of as plagued by relgion and she sees along with the problems, perhaps some solutions. As thorny as religious conflicts can be, throwing up ones hands in disgust at religion will produce no change. Rather, says Albright, a little unity among Americans and a foriegn policy that truly has a moral foundation instead of domestic campaigns that have moral talk would start us in the hard work to improve both the muddles of conflict in which the world is mired and the low esteem in which the US is now held by the world.

The book is full of quotable goodies and a few favorites I quote here are not representative of the more or less balanced [such a relative term!] tone of a writer who also calls in to question the species of criticism of America's past policies that can find no good in what was done.

There is a parallel, I think, between religious fundamentalism and the unquestioning jingoism that views all of history through a narrowly American lens. Both traits are fed by a desire for certainty, a hunger for solid answers on which to build a coherent picture of the world.

I am already angered by the facile discussion of a split between so-called "red" and "blue" states, as if we did not all pledge allegiance to the same tricolor flag. I regret that we have fostered a political culture that rewards the extremes, a culture in which dogmatic belief is deemed a virture and open minedness a weakness, and sarcasm and slanderous attacks frequently drown out intelligent discussion. Haven't we had enough of this?

Studies indicate that wars with a religious component are fought more savagely than other conflicts. As the acerbic liberal columnist I. F Stone observed, "Too many throats have been cut in God's name through the ages, and God has enlisted in too many wars. War for sport or plunder has never been as bad as war waged because one man's belief was theoretically 'irreconcilable' with another."
The fault in such logic is that, although we know what a globe plagued by religious strife is like, we do not know what it would be like to live in a world where religious faith is absent.

Monday, May 15, 2006

its the leadership

Near the top of my daily reading list is Back on May 11, a post about the legality and the origins of the NSA-run tap of all US phone call records began a comment thread that eventually provided an encyclopedic collection of facts and informed comment on the matter. Vladimir made some useful contributions to the discussion but when he opined:
I think people who live in fear, in gated communities, with security systems on their homes, won't really care if so-called liberals are saying "it's illegal", as long as the bush crowd can convince them that it will make the "safer"--trust us, we'll protect you and those liberals are soft. It's dishonest, but it has been quite effective. So I think that the best argument is that these are a bunch of incompetent frat boys who are over-riding the real professionals.

It made me wonder if the "bush crowd" and the "people who live in fear" are not in many ways the same kind of people except for how much power and information they possess. The root of this spying is not the incompetance and in fact, its not even that fascism-ready personalities abound even in normal times and democratic countries. I was at work when I read that comment. I no longer feel at liberty to post, and strictly speaking, it is prohibited to make public poltical statements using my employer's computers so I kept from keyboarding the following notion until I got back home from my travels.

There have been fascism-friendly functionaries in every era, in most administrations. We had J. Edgar Hoover long before we had Nixon but we didn't feel a need to spell out, in FISA, to the executive that warrantless or otherwise unchecked spying on our own citizens is wrong until Nixon gave his henchmen free rein. There is a little sign that could be on Bush's desk, if you will pardon my french: "the f_ck starts here". People who react to unknown and potential danger by trying to be even more dangerous than what they percieve rather than investigating their perceptions are not what is new: how many of them now run our country is what is new.

The little people in the military and civilian spy agencies may or may not possess any conscience about the meaning of the Bill of Rights or the legal precedents our courts have woven from the BoR. After all, these people are born worriers and have a career stake in mistrusting all humanity. They will do more than the spirit of the law allows if not held in check. This president is an even littler person than his voters, dwarfed by his insecurities, and welcoming state inspection of every iota of communication if his minions tell him it makes us safer.

Why the hell isn't he spying on the message traffic in and out of Pakistan where our most thoroughly documented enemy hides out? Al-Jazeera can get video tapes from people the US military can't even lock up when they are in our allies' hands. Why on earth would we want such ineptness loosed on our own citizens?

In the end, I think about the issue in my favorite how vs why framework. In a search for understanding of the natural world "why" is useless and leads to religious short-cut thinking. But in the world of the actions, collective and individual, of people, "why" is more important than how. Had he a different staff, or a different set of friends, the Bush league would still be a coterie of people taken in by their own fears. How they go about acting on their fears would be different in the details from our present carving of the flesh of liberty away from the words of the constitution but the why is the same...its the "leadership".

You can't change people, you can change leaders.

How do they do that?

Each religion claims that there is a particular truth for which there is no generalization or for which the generalization of the particular is not the truth.

Enjoy my vacation.

As millions of blog readers have demonstrated, there are much better things to read.

The executioner will be in some dial-up backwater or worse for about a week or at least wishes to pretend he has no access.

This blog has been brought to you by a neutral internet.

The earth is not all I borrow from my children

With each year I witness bloodier failures to share or negotiate and mounting ignorance violently turning ideologies away from convergence or conciliation. The minds most resistant to Darwin's insights are condemned to mindlessly carry out brutal demonstrations of the universality of those insights. I grow slightly more convinced that if there is a meaning to life that most of us could agree on, it may be discovered by some one in a far calmer and far away future of our species. Thus I can only lighten my own existance by borrowing a little meaning from that future: to continue and to enhance the chain of lives that may reach that future. This is not an easy task as the quantity of life already and increasingly degrades the quality of lives I seek to enhance.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Bye ,Rove! [got indictment?]

I got this alert from my subscription. I flipped through Firedoglake, TPM and Atrios and didn't see it confirmed. Rove will be indicted. Hope its true...gawd do we need some fresh air in this country. This news is not my doing and I generally have a low opinon of spectators, especially when the sport is politics. But this is first down on the 50 yd line for my team so I am cheering.

Monday AM UPDATE: Shakespeare's Stister got it from TO on Saturday but by Sunday it was NOT in all the papers. Guess, we'll see. Jason Leopold has a good reputation but others report he was hoaxed and the rest of the buzz is just our pent up hopes Rove would get his due. Now don't you wish you had sent a little cash to It's wait-and-see for everybody else. New York Sun transcribes a Rove spokesperson: "The story is a complete fabrication". News people all want a scoop but without the contacts Leopold claims, are cautiously tempering their language.

Monday PM Update: as of 16:44EST, google news only finds saying definitely:
During the course of that meeting, Fitzgerald served attorneys for former Deputy White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove with an indictment charging the embattled White House official with perjury and lying to investigators related to his role in the CIA leak case, and instructed one of the attorneys to tell Rove that he has 24 business hours to get his affairs in order, high level sources with direct knowledge of the meeting said Saturday morning.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Leadership: a festival of metaphors

Great leaders are rare. Their thoughts represent a better way for people to act or for societies to organize resources, a better way clear enough in its expression that a majority of the crowd will turn in the new direction. These leaders see in the moment what fruit the years could bear. Before the age of mass communications, such effectiveness required an army. Luther's influence spread as widely as Ceasar's but their methods were clearly different, more thanks to Johann Gutenberg than any other agent. [I apologize for not defining "better" but no one spends more than about 55 seconds reading these posts so fuggidaboudit]. I imagine Anwar Sadat was such a leader, for instance or perhaps Gorbachev. But of course there is always the minority threatened by change.

Ordinary leaders, the kind that are simply noted in our history books but who outnumber great leaders the way the "begats" outnumber patriarchs...they are to history as twine is to netting: the great leaders are the knots that turn the threads of history into a web. The ordinary leader understands his duty and if not afflicted with a need to make a mark in history, can sense where the crowd is headed and get out in front of it and point his staff in the direction he hopes they are headed. Democracies are infested with such leaders, the present US congress being a rather pathetic case in point. The debates in which those contesting for leadership roles must demonstrate possession of facts, a feeling for where the average person thinks their bread is buttered [or pilfered] and a capacity to maneuver and inspire are known to be hazardous to political fortunes of ordinary leaders. That's why we are treated to fewer and more watered down debates. A figurehead propped up in front of the crowd, will function as an ordinary leader. Ronald Reagan would be an example.

But what if the figure head comes to life? What if, like an evil puppet in a bad horror flick, the figurehead gets it into his head that he can do the figgerin'? Or what if the leader is so dim wittedly stubborn that he will not, can not, respond to the realities of his situation with meaningful changes? This is the leader who backs his pickup truck over his closest friends and advisors in his belief that he is speeding along his personal fast lane to heaven.

Ask not what your country can do for you, in fact, don't even ask what your country can do TO you!

Leaders seem to be people outside the crowd, a force apart from it and in some way above it. But if you really want to understand the love/hate relationship we have with leaders, look into the ambivalence of your own wish to act freely yet be free of responsibility.

['s political humor page supplied photo, attributed to Atrios, no less! But I suspect Duncan was in Philly when dear leader was in didn't forget to tell us about your invitation from the Whitehouse, now did you Duncan?]

Monday, May 08, 2006

Some things you cannot subpoena

If invited, generosity will often attend but if forced to go, self interest borrows generosity's clothes and goes in its place.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

el primero de mayo

Entirely by coincidence, I was in and around Union square most of Monday afternoon and evening.

A few businesses closed that might otherwise have benefited from the turn-out. Pie by the Pound on 4th Ave was shuttered with a simple note taped up "Out of solidarity with...." Most places were open and light clientele seemed adequately served by light staffing. At 10:30, the crowd and the colorful banners had begun to fill the square. The noise resounded in the brick and glass canyons feeding into the square. A scruffy band of white kids who looked more like NYU students dressed to trick-or-treat as the revolting proletariat strike force, marched north from Washington square to meet up with the rally at Union square. They were chanting "fight for the people, ..." and waving red flags. No one else, passerby, spectator or marcher seemed to share that shrill, overwrought demeanor. It was much more a celebratory pause to come out and reveal [and revel in] their numbers than a protest.

By noon, sporadic drumming punctuated the din By 4:00 the crowd, barely contained by police barricades, chanted and circled the overflowing square. By 5:30 or 6:00, the loud carnival began to stream down Broadway. Still, the only persons I saw upset by this were the people who tried to move about lower Manhattan in their cars...these would be either out-of-towners or persons without other choices. The MTA ground on with its usual gritty reliability. Most lookers on just looked on. It takes a lot to raise an eyebrow in New York, NY. I need to be blunt about this: no one looked threatened. No one looked threatening. The most common sentiment I saw on placards or heard from marchers was that they thought America was a great county. Contrasting their exuberance about being here with the discontents you will read in this blog, you'd think those conservatives who have,for the last six years, been chanting "right or wrong, its my country" would embrace this crowd.

As we made our way down Broadway in search of dinner, we were in the midst of the parading. Like so many others, we snapped a few pictures. Counting cell phone cameras, there must have been a million pictures taken Monday. In the middle of this throng, there was no vibe or hint of a hunting pack. They were not here to take anything. They were here to give themselves the reassurance of their own multitude.

This triggers an ancient memory. I grew up on a farm in California in the '50s. Some days, I'd go to the field with my father and these men who had no English, big grins and the hottest damned pickled peppers you ever got near. We didn't hire migrant workers, we hired guest workers. The history of Mexican guest laborers in the US has little that either country should be proud of. [ the bracero program depressed wages for all crop pickers] We would pick up a crew at a barracks-like camp when the tomatoes were ripe and they would pick and load lug boxes all day long. They laughed easily, shrugged off the wear and tear of their jobs, mostly stayed sober and saved their wages. And come September or October, they were back on a bus to Mexico [or maybe just to the border] with no insurance and no retirement plan beside that roll of bills in their pocket. Running a family farm on razor thin margins doesn't provide insurance either. It took my folks 15 years before conceding that neither luck nor hard work could make a go of farming leased land. After the Labor Department shut down the Bracero program, dad complained none of the people he picked up at the day labor offices near skid row in Sacramento ever worked out. I have since learned dad's nostalgia for that program may have been misplaced. It was a stopgap, the death throes of a 19th century economics of farming when "farm hand" was not seasonal work but might have been a career that included room and board. To set a table with unmechanized food production [grapes, melons] along side fully mechanized production [wheat, corn, beet sugar] required either honest price differences or dishonest pay scales. Going with the latter, our country poked holes in its borders and in our expectations that have never been repaired. Just because you cannot reduce the labor content of a service or product does not establish any logic but greed by which you could lower the wages entailed. The darkest and least civilized harms that lurk in the ironic shadows of a civilization might be dispelled if the "civilized" could just say of some things "we can't honestly afford that". The wage disparities that move people across our borders will have no permanent solution until they have a just solution: prices would go up. Would we accept that? Would we laugh as easily at our hard lot as those braceros did, as easily as the "undocumented" busboys and chamber maids swarming in Union Square do?

Here are some questions for which I no longer feel I have sound answers. They are all about "wedge" issues wrapped up in the illegal immigration debate. These wedges will force employers to take sides and congress to talk out of both sides of its mouth.
  • Do the affluent fear the poor who can vote less than they fear the poor who have no vote?
  • Do the employers fear the workers who have no legal protection?
  • Could the marginally profitable businesses who seem to need the support of exploitable labor get by with the support of an understanding consumer?
  • Did NAFTA move enough low-skill, low-wage jobs from US to Mexico to reduce illegal immigration below levels it might otherwise have reached?
  • Do jobs that pay poverty level wages and provide no health benefits create more demand for tax-funded services [police, fire, ER, schools] than they fund via income and other taxes? I.e., what is the real cost of an underpaid worker and hasn't the employer shifted some of these costs to other taxpayers while keeping most of the benefits of the labor?
  • Does the world owe a living to a businessman who sells an uncompetative service or product?
  • Do the poor who worry about losing their job fear the poorer who worry about finding a job?
  • How high a wall do you have to build around a country to stop employers from needing low cost labor?
  • Has any society lived "well" without the unheralded support of an underclass? If so, what were their labor, tax and immigration policies like?
I do not want my story to end like this: "I once lived in a country that became too lazy to earn its contentments. Instead, they wanted cheap drugs which they could not make and cheap labor they were ashamed to perform. Both came from the same places and this country became addicted to both. This addiction made them blind to the connection between the market they provided and the holes in the fence through which that market was supplied. Only the holes in the fence alarmed them."